Put some there there. Imagine the body.

Eileen Myles amidst the Poets & Critics

Eileen Myles and Olivier Brossard at galerie éof.

Three times a year Abigail Lang, Olivier Brossard and Vincent Broqua organize a two-day "Poets & Critics" symposium in Paris – during which they welcome a multinational and multilingual group of writers, scholars and artists to discuss the work of one English-language poet. The terrifying but exhilarating condition: the poet will also be there. The poet will talk back to you. You will talk back to the poet. Hopefully you will begin talking together.

In December, "Poets & Critics" hosted Fred Moten; in June, they will bring Johanna Drucker to Paris. Last week, the symposium concentrated on the work of Eileen Myles, and I was lucky to be one of the bodies in the room. The others included: Lisa Robertson, Jonathan Skinner, Ruth Novaczek, Cia Rinne, Sarah Bahr, Christine Herzer, David Hobbs, Jeremy Hawkins, William Hamlett, Natalie Häusler, Jane Lewty, Simon Quéheillard, Lauren Kirk, Katherine Zellner, Peter Middleton, Dennis Cooper, Zac Farley, Catherine Marcangeli, Steve Shepherd, Jackson Smith, Morten Søndergaard, Jean-Philippe Antoine, Barbara Beck, Laura Elliott, Angus Sinclair, Diana Michener, Jim Dine, Zsofia Szatmari, Aislinn McNamara and Mark von Shlegell. (This list is compiled partially from memory and partially from names on the lunch/dinner Doodle poll.) There were also 10 German artists. And, of course, Eileen, Abigail, Olivier and Vincent.  

The conversations ranged from the economy of writing poetry (how does one support, materially, one’s poetic labor?); the significance of light and color in Myles’ poems, and how this might vary between Marfa, NYC and Paris; how genre can be determined or defined by energy; the often overlooked influence of James Schuyler; what third-wave feminism means; what “home” means; why it’s funny to imagine oneself, raised in Arlington, MA, as a Kennedy; and of course Myles’ presence and participation in television, through Transparent.

I was struck by how much – and how insistently – physical presence determines Myles’ writing practice. As mentioned, different genres (essay, poem, novel) are determined by different kinds of energy; Myles’ short poetic lines accomodate the narrow notebooks she uses; and Myles’ emphasis on permission, which I eventually began to see as a kind of awareness, of how one makes oneself (either in performance or in text) a present and palpable body in the room, reconstituting the collective body.

In the essay “The End of New England,” in The Importance of Being Iceland, Myles writes:

I think of Rudy Vallee telling the young Frank Sinatra that his secret to singing was to put some dick in it.

I’d say put some pussy, too, but I’m saying the erotic component in American poetry today is the gasping immediacy of absence, to do what John Ashbery describes as acting in the writing of the poem as if the reader or the listener were in the same room with you. Put some there there. Imagine the body.

On the symposium’s second day, after the 10 German artists and a few other participants had to return home, I decided to circulate a survey around the room. Inspired by Myles’ suggestion that we put some there there, I was curious about how the other participants saw their bodies in dialogue with the poetry we were reading and the discussions we were having together. How were we reading our bodies? How were we reading with our bodies?

I circulated the survey twice: first in the morning, while we actually were discussing the role of the body, and erotics, in reading and writing practices; then in the afternoon, while we engaged in a “close reading” of Myles’ poem “My Box” (you can hear her read it at PennSound). Myles also participated. I won’t tell you which of these she wrote, but I do love about her poetry that – whoever you are and however you identify – it makes space for you to feel this too.

MORNING: during general discussion
“How do you feel your body right now?”

my stomach is anxious, braided
at rest
washed out
vaguely familiar
distracted by the question
relaxed, why?
vaguely similar and yet rushing with emotion & ideas but also tired!
pretty good
gazpacho + bread
caffeine made physical
I would like to translate it
still waking, tense, warm
fatter than I’d like (always)
it’s the morning
in it / orange
doesn’t feel it really, mostly ridicule, wearing my biking shirt with a short skirt,
          would like to move a little bit, vaguely
a bit tired & blurry, but also at ease
basically feeling the presence of breasts and hips

AFTERNOON: during a collective close-reading of “My Box”
“How do you feel your body right now?”

have to pee again. tingly buzzing up top.
same still
I do
thinking it feels present, yet I’m completely still
warming under control
thingy, social playball, object (in a natural way), gravity
invisible wiggles
a bit sleepy
it may contain traces of nuts
with my mind
one in the room


Eileen Myles, I Must Be Living Twice: New and Selected Poems 1975-2014. New York: Ecco Press / Harper Collins, 2015.
Eileen Myles, The Importance of Being Iceland: Travel Essays in Art. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009.